Ron Agostini

Ron Agostini: Bonds' bat no match for the feds

Barry Bonds believed he could overpower baseball, much like the mammoth home runs he launched over the wall.

He thought he was bigger than the game and, to some extent, he was right. He literally switched bodies to prove his point and skewed the record book into ridiculous shapes.

His defense -- he didn't "knowingly" use steroids.

Not enough, the feds said Thursday afternoon.

You can't outslug the law.

If you thought Bonds would walk away from this mess -- making a soft and gentle parachute drop into either retirement or a few at-bats as a DH -- you were as wrong as many a lefty trying to sneak a fastball past No. 25.

As we've rediscovered, Bonds and his record-setting bat aren't bigger than the game. His indictment on perjury and obstruction of justice tells us he must come clean and, so far, no one in a court of law buys his story.

Bonds, 43, has been centered in the government's crosshairs for four years, since his testimony to a federal grand jury. The indictment charges that Bonds lied when testifying that he never took steroids any time in 2001 while he drilled a record-setting 73 home runs.

Bonds also testified that he thought trainer Greg Anderson gave him flaxseed oil and arthritic balm, not anabolic steroids. That's been his argument, which is about as flimsy as the "cream" and the "clear" he allegedly took.

Anderson, who refused to tell investigators what he knew, paid for his silence with long months of jail time. It's tempting to think Anderson finally sang like Pavarotti, resulting in a federal judge ordering his release later Thursday afternoon. It's also possible, perhaps probable, that investigators completed their work and felt it was useless to keep Anderson behind bars. We'll reserve the dot-connecting for another day.

That said, Bonds can't complain about timing. The indictment hammer fell on him only after he passed Hank Aaron over the summer for the career home run lead, arguably the most glamorous record in sport. Bonds should be thankful the feds waited until the offseason of his transition away from the San Francisco Giants and, just maybe, after his career was completed. He set the record, achieved what glory came with it, and only later did the government come calling.

How convenient. And curious.

Bonds' defense is obvious and transparent. His attorneys will argue that their client never has failed a drug test, that he used the stuff before baseball outlawed it in 2004 -- never mind that it's always been illegal without a doctor's OK outside baseball -- and that he was unfairly singled out.

That he's the poster child for a sport rife with drugs is a fair point. There was more than just one BALCO lab, reasonable people always assumed, and we're learning about these performance-enhancing emporiums with each passing day. The names are spilling like water over the dam, the latest being Matt Williams, Paul Byrd and Mike Cameron. More will be forthcoming when the Mitchell investigation soon detonates its own grenades.

But Bonds always has been Target One, and the government never hid its resolve. Question its timing but never its intent. It smelled something fishy all along with Bonds, baseball's No. 1 box office draw. Bring him down, and baseball's drug cleansing picks up major momentum.

As for Bonds, he can blame only himself. Jason Giambi, when he was granted the same immunity from prosecution that Bonds reportedly received, all but held up his hands and said, "Guilty." Giambi absorbed mountains of embarrassment and humiliation, but he'll never face the business end of justice that threatens Bonds today.

How it plays out relies too much on hunch bets and layers of lawyering. Bonds, like nearly every cornered steroids suspect, will plead not guilty. Disgraced track star Marion Jones, another athlete under the BALCO umbrella, switched overnight from defiant victim shouting her innocence to sobbing confessor, admitting to years of lies. One thing we surely know: Bonds never will tread Jones' path.

My overall reaction is sadness. Bonds is the best hitter I've seen, even better than his godfather, Willie Mays. He was on track for about 650 home runs and a first-ballot waltz into the Hall of Fame. He had everything -- talent bequeathed to only a few mortals, money, fame and the kind of respect that even detoured his thorn-laden personality.

Here is the sad part. All the above wasn't sufficient, because he knew he was a better and more powerful slugger than either Sammy Sosa or Mark McGwire, the heroes of that era. And so Bonds reported to spring training seven years ago with a physique that could only be described as "embellished."

The entire saga was a choice Bonds made long ago. He weighed the risks and said, "Let's do it."

No, the book "Game of Shadows" wasn't a witch hunt after all. It laid out the story in careful and painful detail about a man who wished to dwarf the game and all who preceded him and didn't sweat how he got there. Today, his home run count stands at 762, attached to an asterisk that grows by the minute. I suspect his career on the field is done. He probably could blast a fastball until he's 50, but which team would sign up for such a circus?

In the end, Thursday's indictment serves as a reminder that no one, not even Bonds and his posse and his Barca-lounger, trifles with the game without consequences. At stake are what's left of his reputation, a plaque in Cooperstown and a game that desperately needs to reverse course.

Bonds may have changed the game, though not in the way he wished.

Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or 578-2302.

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